About a year ago, I found myself in Hamilton, Ontario. It was early March, I was a guest of The Juno Awards, Canada’s annual celebration of homegrown music. Each year, the awards transpire in another city in Canada and 2015, the awards were held in Hamilton.
The news that I would be spending a long weekend in Hamilton evoked apologies from everyone I mentioned it to and I wasn’t expecting much when we drove up there on a Friday afternoon in the freezing cold.
But one night in, I loved it.
The environment was stark and majestic. I marveled at the many shades of its winter gray landscape. There were blues and purples and whites. I never knew gray’s palette until my first evening. Everyone was incredibly friendly. I thought of this band I liked that was from Hamilton called Junior Boys. They made moody, often industrial, cinematic techno. It felt like their songs were cautionary tales and they worked well on a dancefloor deep in the middle of a late night set. When I heard their first song some years ago, I knew they were from someplace cold, where they made music in winter, and through their music, they warmed the room.
A few memorable things happened the weekend I went to Hamilton. I went on a walk in the freezing weather to find a craft store. It was a crazy mission to fix the eye of my travel companion, my little chicken that had traveled with me around the world for 7 years. On the way, I met an older woman, who had seen better days and was suffering in the cold. She asked me for money to give her a coffee. I had no change, so I gave her 20 dollars. She responded by thanking me profusely and asked me if she could give me a hug. I couldn’t refuse. It was the best hug I received in a long time. I finally understood that if I gave just a fraction of the energy I had for inanimate objects on other humans, that I would feel much better.
I saw some bands in a historic church. Hardly anyone used their phone and everyone listened intently to musicians serious about their songs, passionate about their craft.
I found a local coffeeshop, where two female college students were arguing about podcasts and the lack of women writers in music. I chirped in, expecting to be shut down, but they spoke to me for some time after.
I dressed up to go to the awards ceremony. Inside the arena, my phone didn’t work to post the updates I had promised I’d do. So I left. I trudged in my gown back to my hotel room, put on my bathrobe, turned on the TV and live tweeted the rest of the awards. If I wasn’t going to be in the press room, I didn’t need to be anywhere else but in front of a TV.
Later that night, I met up with a co-worker, got into a cab and not knowing where to eat, we asked the driver for advice. He took us to his favorite kebab joint, where all of us ate together the most delicious kebab I can remember.
The next day, I wound up walking through Hamilton’s downtown, photographing the art on some massive concrete walls, browsing prints in an art supply store, only to discover the cashier was the artist, and wandering in this strange daze that I hadn’t felt in many years, since when I lived in London and liked to get lost because I had nothing better to do. I walked swiftly through the city on the harsh winter day. I was not accustomed to such a cold. It stripped me of comfort, it made each step acute, it was challenging just being outside.
But a part of me wished all trips possessed this realness, this reflection that travel is not always a vacation, that for many it is where you must wind up in order to survive. Travel is sometimes a reminder that circumstance forces you away from the comforts of home and that those think that all travel is aspirational, probably don’t travel enough in discomfort.
I was an adult before I really traveled. I still don’t consider myself a traveler, even though I’ve been more places than most, even though I know more facts and figures about cities and geographies and concept shops and places to eat and luxury hotels than is healthy. But I love travel because it forces me to constantly improvise to survive. And it reminds me that most people are generally kind.
I wasn’t born in Los Angeles, but I am from Los Angeles, and it’s a city I think of as unfriendly. The concept of friendship is often relegated to other times and places, another world where everyone is interconnected and realizes we are all in this world together. Los Angeles may possess beauty and green space, but I’ve always found it hard, and a challenging place to form community. Most of my favorite friends have come and gone to other cities. I spend a lot of time walking around in silence, taking pictures out of loneliness, documenting the grayness that looks green to others. Like Hamilton, Los Angeles can also be misunderstood.
Hearing Junior Boys the other night reminded me of this Hamilton trip I told no one about. I looked around the room and everyone danced awkwardly together. On the stage, the band steadily played a mesmerizing set. And like the city they were from, they warmed me.